A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Top Photographers Choose the Pictures That Make Them Happy

We asked photographers to send us the one image that most says "happiness" through their lens; these are a few of our favorites.

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Photographer Marcus Bleasdale: “In 2007, Human Rights Watch asked me to photograph the street children in Kinshasa, a war-ravaged city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I took this photo inside a local resource center that provides the children a few meals and running water. The boy in front is one of the thousands of kids who sleep on the streets and scavenge at a local market for food and charcoal to sell. Despite his desperate situation, he still relishes taking a shower, a luxury that most of us take for granted.” Learn how one city is turning buses into shower stations for the homeless.

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Photographer Andrew Brusso: “I’m from Weeki Wachee, Florida, home of the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park mermaids, a roadside attraction that started in 1947. When I heard that the park was in danger of closing a few years ago, I volunteered to take promotional photographs. A mermaid asked me to photograph her with her 18-month-old twin daughters, who had been learning to swim at the spring since infancy. I consider the underwater images, which display the importance of tradition and reveal a connection to nature and the wonder of fantasy, some of the most meaningful of my career.”

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Photographer Seamus Murphy: “I shot this photo of a coal miner in front of his daily haul of coal in 2004 in the Takhar province of Afghanistan. I’ve been documenting people’s lives for decades, but this man, a member of a small community of Afghan Arabs, had the most carefree laugh I have ever seen.” Here are some facts you never knew about laughter.

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Photographer Tom Hussey: “In 2008 and 2009, I traveled all over North Texas documenting my sons playing football for the Lakehill Preparatory School Warriors, a football team from Dallas that competed with only six players on the field at one time—instead of the traditional 11—and played other small schools that did the same. The games were frenetic and high scoring, and in a lot of ways, these boys were the ultimate athletes. Many of them played both offense and defense, and they loved it. I captured this moment of the opposing team after a game in 2009.”

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Photographer Josh Rothstein: “This is my friend Cara jumping down the stairs in an old apartment building in Brooklyn. The dreamy quality of the photo transforms the gritty surroundings into a beautiful, serene place. I also took a leap soon after I shot this photo. Cara set me up on a blind date with a woman who eventually became my wife.”

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Photographer Steve Vaccariello: “I love photographing dancers because we can collaborate as artists to come up with an amazing image comprising athleticism, form, light, composition, expression, and emotion. One fall day in 2010, I asked this ballerina, a performer with the American Ballet Theatre, to show me something powerful and joyous from a recent show. Because the movement was so taxing on her body, I had only three chances to get the shot. When I saw this image, I thought, This is the perfect moment!” Here’s why dancing can immediately make you feel younger.

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Photographer Vern Evans: “I caught this moment as a group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns took a break from class outside their school in Dharamsala, India, in 2008. [The Chinese government] prevents Tibetan nuns from learning and practicing Buddhism in their home country. I’m a big guy who wears a cowboy hat, so I think my appearance got them smiling. All the nuns’ eyes sparkle with such joy—you can almost hear them giggling. We all know the stories of the Tibetan people’s suffering, so to see the nuns in a moment of spontaneous laughter makes me feel that everything will be OK.”

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Photographer Jeff Rennicke: “As a volunteer at the Northwoods Children’s Museum in Eagle River, Wisconsin, last year, I witnessed creativity in action: a dozen eight- to ten-year-olds dipping their hands in jars of finger paints and swirling yellow and green and red to make sunflowers and fire trucks on drawing paper. After the kids left, all that remained was a row of their paint-splattered smocks. Hung together in a haphazard way, the smocks created a tapestry that reminded me that art should be joyous and raucous. Kids know that already.”

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Photographer Ken Shung: “I shot this photograph in June 1987 in Taishan, a city in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. I was there visiting the village where my father grew up. The boy in front was part of a group of children following me around that day while I took pictures. This moment of the boy laughing as it started to rain reminded me of lyrics from the song, ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.’ Because I’m free, nothing’s worrying me… Simple joys bring happiness to kids who have only a few friends and not much of material value.”

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Photographer Lynsey Addario: “I shot this photo in 2010 at a Kabul, Afghanistan shelter for children whose parents are in prison. The little girl with short hair in the center of the photo is Gulaboo. Both of her parents and one of her siblings are in jail. Despite their circumstances, these girls still play and have fun like any other kids.” This photographer turned kids with disabilities into the Justice League for an epic photoshoot.

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Photographer Joachim Ladefoged: “Since 1957, men and women have been gathering each July in Klampenborg, Denmark for the World Santa Claus Congress, an opportunity for professional St. Nicks to spread Christmas cheer and network with their peers. One of the highlights of the convention is the annual saltwater footbath. I shot this photo at Bellevue beach north of Copenhagen as the Santas and their elves were coming out of the water.”

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Photographer Kreg Holt: “I shot this photo in my Brooklyn neighborhood one wet October morning in 2011. My wife Kate and I were trying to convince our son Noah to wear his new rain boots and carry his umbrella. We were running late for an appointment and when we got outside he wanted to jump into every puddle. If it wasn’t for this photo, all I would remember from that morning was the struggle. Instead I see Noah’s excitement and indulgence.” These beautiful photos of rainbows will instantly brighten your day.

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Photographer Venetia Deardon: “I shot this photo of a group of sequestered nuns famed for their beautiful singing voices at a monastery in Avignon, France in May 2010. In fact, the sisters recently signed a recording contract with the company who represents Lady Gaga! I was on an assignment for the Sunday Times of London, visiting monasteries all over UK and Ireland. I was always in awe of nuns’ sense of peace and inner contentment, and especially intrigued by the way these women are so happy and free within the confines of their monastery.” Did you know that singing in a group has incredible health benefits?

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Photographer Sandra Phipps: “Lucy, our first child, was born last June to two parents unprepared for many things, including the heat wave that overtook Brooklyn, where we live. With only a window fan in our apartment, we decided to temporarily relocate with the baby to my sister’s house in North Georgia. There, in the cool mountain air, we finally settled into a summer of getting to know this new person. All the stress of the last few weeks disappeared the moment Lucy fell asleep on my husband’s chest one afternoon as he lounged on a blanket by the lake. I felt complete happiness in this moment—we were a real family for the first time, resting and enjoying the sweet gravity that brought us all together.”

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Photographer Ed Kashi: “Frankie Manning was one of the creators of the Lindy Hop style of ballroom dancing, and well into his 90s he traveled the world teaching its steps. This image, taken at his 86th birthday party in Baltimore, captures his effortless joy and beaming spirit. He’s cutting the rug with one of the eighty-six women he danced with that night—[almost] one for every year of his life.”

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Photographer Jackie Alpers: “When I saw cotton candy displayed in a homemade tin foil stand at my local county fair, I was instantly happy. So pink! So fluffy! I thought of it as a circus on a stick—in fact, it reminded me of going to ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ with my father as a child in the 1970s in Columbus, Ohio. I’ll never forget first seeing the paper cone gathering the cotton candy as it spun in a big vat as we stood in line. I’ve been documenting fair food for a few years now—it’s bigger and much more fun than the food I eat everyday. It evokes a sense of awe and adventure.” You’ll never guess what they call cotton candy (and these 13 other foods) in England.

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Photographer Matt Black: “Seven-year-old Armando Santo Galinda lives in the San Miguel Cuevas section of Oaxaca, Mexico, a community so poor that some 80 percent of its population, including Armando’s three brothers and his father, have migrated to the United States in search of work. With his mother, the boy tends a flock of turkeys and helps grow a patch of corn. They have virtually no money. This photo of Armando walking home from watering the turkeys down a dirt road on the edge of a virtual ghost town makes me question how we measure wealth. So many of us, living in a sterile, manmade environment, suffer poverty of spirit. But Armando seems to float during a carefree moment of joy.”

Here are some more stunning photos that stand the test of time.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest